Since so many of you enjoyed the story, “The Great America Novelist,” here’s another literary gem from my collection of fun and poignant short stories about the Jewish People in our time, Days of Mashiach.
I wrote the little fable in order to explain the first sentence of Rabbi Kook’s book, Orot, his classic treatise on the Redemption of Israel. The book begins: “Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter, external to the inner essence of the Jewish Nation.” Rabbi Kook wants us to know that the Land of Israel isn’t just a nice place to visit, or merely a place to do extra mitzvot, but that it is an essential part of our lives, attached to us by an inner oneness, like a person’s mother or his wife. It’s not something you give away.
By the way, for readers who thought I was serious about going to LA – I was only kidding in order to make the point that, in our generation, a Jew has to do whatever he or she can to promote the rebuilding of Israel, and not only worry about his personal material pleasures. I’m actually driving to Beit El today to see how I can help out in the struggle to save the Ulpana neighborhood. I made a poster to hold up at demonstrations and I want to drop it off to the local troops who are faithfully trying to save the threatened buildings. Along the way, I’ll drop some posters off on the embattled settlement of Migron. Here’s the story. Let me know what you think.
Ehud was a happy man, truly content with his lot. He had a lovely wife, three lovely children, and a lovely house in a lovely community. He had a good job and good friends. He liked and respected all people, and all people liked and respected him. He was friendly, optimistic, and always tried to see the good side of things, believing that everything that happened in life was for the best. He did whatever he could to help people, and he avoided quarrels and fights, believing that peace was life’s most precious value. He was a smart man, an educated man, but humble, never thinking he was better than anyone else. He had his opinions, but he respected all points of view, except for the radical. He kept to the middle path in life and followed the rule, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” He wasn’t a religious man, practicing rituals and the like, but he lived a very moral, principled life.
One quiet evening, while Ehud was reading his newspaper, there was a knock on the door. A man stood outside. He was a tall man, a big man, with a nondescript face. He might have been a Gentile, or an Arab, or a Jew.
Ehud greeted him with a smile and a pleasant hello. The man seemed surprised that Ehud didn’t recognize him.
“The other day in town, I lent you twenty shekels,” he said.
Ehud didn’t remember. He thought and thought, but he couldn’t remember a thing. It wasn’t like him to forget, but the man seemed quite certain. It wouldn’t be polite to argue, Ehud thought. It was only twenty shekels. And apparently he had given the man his address. Ehud apologized for forgetting, gave the man twenty shekels, and said goodnight.
The very next night, he returned. The same man. He appeared at the door while Ehud’s wife, Tzipora, was cooking dinner in the kitchen.
“I came for my television,” the man said.
“Your television?” Ehud asked.
“The television set that I lent you,” the man said. “I want it back. My children don’t have a TV to watch.”
“What will my children watch?” Ehud asked.
“I’m sorry, but that isn’t my problem,” the man replied.
“But the television is mine,” Ehud protested. “I bought it, and I have a warranty to prove it too.”
Ehud walked to the cabinet where he kept all of his papers in alphabetically arranged files. But the television warranty wasn’t there. He searched through his old bank statements, phone bills and medical records, but the warranty was nowhere to be found. Embarrassed, he returned to the door.
“For the moment, I can’t seem to find it,” he said.
“That proves it then,” the man said. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have much time, and I really don’t want to fight. Please give it to me now.”
Ehud didn’t want to fight either. Ehud didn’t like fighting. Fighting was barbaric. Fighting was cruel. Perhaps the man was too embarrassed to admit he was poor. And maybe the man’s children really didn’t have a TV to watch. If so, the situation truly wasn’t fair. After all, Ehud’s children watched every night. It was, Ehud finally decided, the right thing to do. So he walked to the den, pulled out the television plug from the wall, and to the cries of his startled children, he carried the set to the front door and handed it to the man, feeling in his heart that he was doing something noble, something majestic, something good.
When the man left, Ehud sat down with his unhappy children to explain why it was so important to have done what he did. Everyone in the world was equal, he told them, and it was important for everyone to share things equally. When there were differences between people, there was envy, and envy led to fighting, and fighting brought an end to peace. Just as they had enjoyed watching television, so would some other children now. Ehud’s wife stood listening in the doorway, a soft smile on her lips. This was the reason she loved her husband so much. He was so caring, so open-hearted, so good. More important than the television was the example her husband was setting for the children, and the valuable lesson they would learn.
“But what will we do now?” the older boy asked.
“Read,” Ehud said. “From now on, I’ll read you books.”
The very next evening, Ehud sat in his armchair, reading a book to his children, almost awaiting a knock on the door. When it came, he sprang up and hurried across the room.
“Good evening,” the man said. “I came for my clothes.”
For a moment, the two men stared at each other. Ehud sensed his wife and his children behind him, watching to see what would happen.
“They are upstairs in the closet,” Ehud said.
He invited the man inside. He felt he was being tested. To see if he could really practice what he believed; that all men were brothers; that everyone was equal; that his claims on the world were the same as all other peoples, without firsts or seconds, better or worse.
Ehud led the man upstairs to his bedroom. Maybe, he reasoned, the man really didn’t have any clothes besides the same very nice suit he wore every night. Maybe he had no job, and no money to buy what he needed. Ehud opened his closet, took out his clothes, and spread them out on the bed: pants and shirts, sweaters and jackets and shoes.
“A suitcase would help,” the man said.
Ehud gave him two. The man filled them both. Ehud wasn’t worried. He was glad. He had a job. He could always buy more clothes. And even with all the man took, Ehud still had more than he needed. Magnanimously, Ehud helped him carry the suitcases downstairs. With smiles on their faces, Ehud, his wife, and his children said goodnight to the man at the door.
The next night, the children were waiting at the windows, but the man didn’t come.
“Where is he, Dad?” one son asked
“I don’t know,” Ehud answered.
“I wish he would come,” the girl said. “I like him. I think that he’s fun.”
His wife also seemed disappointed. She had even prepared something for the visitor to eat. Ehud felt glad that they all liked the man, but when the man didn’t come, he felt unquestionably relieved.
But the very next day he was back.
“He’s coming! He’s coming!” the boy called from his post at the window. The little girl ran to the door. Ehud greeted him with a cordial hello.
“I’ve come for my house,” the man said. “My family wants to move back tonight.”
Ehud’s voice stuck in his throat. He felt dizzy. He felt weak. Giving up his house was too much.
“He wants to take our whole house, Mommy!” the little girl yelled, running to tell her mother.
Ehud felt his sons’ eyes upon him, watching to see what he would do.
“It isn’t your house,” Ehud said.
“Yes it is,” the man answered.
“We bought it. We have a deed,” Ehud insisted.
“I have a deed too,” the man answered, and he reached in his pocket and pulled out a deed. “The people you bought the house from weren’t the legal owners. I lived here before with my family and have the original lien.”
How could it be, Ehud thought? Hadn’t he received the house from its original owners? Quickly, he examined the man’s deed. Superficially, it seemed all in order; including the right address and plot number, the name of the builder, the seal of the notary, and signatures of lawyers and witnesses. Once again, Ehud felt faint. Little white dots swirled in his brain. The man had to help him into a chair.
“I’ll bring you some water,” Tzipora said.
She returned with two glasses and offered one to the man.
“The deed seems all in order,” Ehud said. “But I’m not a lawyer. Of course, on something like this, I’ll have to have legal advice.”
“I really don’t care for lawyers,” the man said. “I’d much prefer to solve this ourselves. Lawyers always get ugly, and I really don’t want to fight.”
“Of course we don’t want to fight,” Tzipora said. “But…”
“I’ll handle this,” Ehud said. He stood up from his chair and told his children to go up to their room.
“We want to listen,” his older boy said.
“Let’s give him the house. Dad,” the younger added. “We can all live outside in my tent.”
Ehud looked at his wife.
“We could go to my mother’s,” she said.
His wife really meant what she said. Ehud’s heart moved toward her with a surging of love. She was so beautiful. She was so pure. He remembered how happy he had been on their wedding day to have found a partner who believed in all the principles that he cherished.
It was true, Ehud reasoned. They could go to her mother. It wasn’t as if they would be out on the street. And maybe the man didn’t have his own home or anywhere to live. And it was also true that lawyers could get ugly. And it was only a house. There were other houses. What did it matter where they lived? It was only walls, floors, and furniture. The main thing was that everyone should live somewhere and that there shouldn’t be a fight.
Ehud reached into his pocket. With trembling fingers, he handed over his key. In the morning, he would decide what to do about lawyers. Now the important thing was for his children to learn the great lesson of kindness and fairness and peace.
He told his family to gather what they needed for the night. He collected his important papers, including his mortgage and deed to the house, a change of clothes for work, pajamas, his toothbrush, and the small handgun in his bedside table, which he was afraid to leave in the house lest the man’s children find it. He handed the man his mother-in-law’s phone number in case he had any problems. Then, carrying two small bags, he led his wife and his children out from their home.
The next day, Ehud was typically busy at the office. He spoke to his lawyer, but there was nothing to do on the phone, except to schedule an appointment for some time later in the week. For the moment, Ehud decided not to go to the police.
Life at his mother-in-law’s apartment was crowded, but the elderly woman seemed happy with the unexpected visit. That evening, Ehud was trying to distract himself with the newspaper when he heard a familiar knock on his mother-in-law’s door. Tzipora glanced up from the television.
Husband and wife exchanged looks.
“He’s back!” the girl said, running to open the door.
Tonight, the man was dressed in one of Ehud’s nicest suits. He stood in the doorway and said with a big happy smile.
“I’ve come for my wife.”
His wife? Had Ehud heard right? Tzipora?
Slowly, Ehud stood up. Again he felt dizzy. Again he felt weak. His mind struggled to reason. Of course every man deserved a wife. But Tzipora was his wife.
“But I married her,” Ehud said.
“I married her too,” the man answered.
“I have a ketuba to prove it,” Ehud argued.
“So do I,” said the man.
“Her ring,” Ehud gasped.
“Anyone can buy a ring.”
“But we have pictures from the wedding.”
“Pictures can be faked.”
“Our children,” Ehud said. “What about our children?”
“The children are mine,” the man answered.
Ehud trembled. He was speechless. He was afraid to talk, afraid to reason. He would say white, and the man would say black. He would say up, and the man would say down. Both things were true. But his wife. He looked at his wife. His beautiful wife. She too was silent. She too was confused. Why belong to one man? Why not belong to two? Why should she be Ehud’s wife and not someone else’s? All people were the same, weren’t they? And weren’t all men brothers?
“I’m afraid I don’t have much time,” the man said. “Are you coming, Tzipora?”
Ehud looked at his wife. He knew she was his. More than that. She was him. He didn’t need a deed or a document to prove it. She was like a piece of his body. She was like his heart. Would he give the man his heart? That was what the man wanted. He was demanding that Ehud give up his heart. Ehud grasped the gun in his pocket. Slowly he raised it into the air. He intended to point the gun at the man, but he couldn’t. Instead, he pointed it at himself. He closed his eyes, and he fired.
That was the lesson that Ehud taught his children that night.Tzvi Fishman
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" will be available soon as a DVD.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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